Joseph J. Cohen

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Joseph J. Cohen (1878-1953) was a prominent Russian-American Jewish anarchist who was active in Philadelphia in the early 1900s. Cohen immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1903 and worked as a cigarmaker. He became involved with the Philadelphia Radical Library, wrote a history of the Jewish anarchist movement in America, and edited the Yiddish-language Anarchist paper Fraye Arbeter Shtime from 1923 to 1932.


Peter Glassgold, Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's MOTHER EARTH (2000)

From Peter Glassgold (2000), editors commentary on Voltairine de Cleyre, "The Philadelphia Farce," in Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's MOTHER EARTH, p. 246.

Joseph Cohen, referred to in the final paragraph, was prominent in the Jewish anarchist and Modern School movements and served from 1923 to 1932 as editor of Fraye Arbeter Shtime.

Paul Avrich, Anarchist Voices (1995)

From Paul Avrich, interview with Morris Beresin (November 28, 1971), in Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America AK Press, 1995/2005). 223.

I [Morris Beresin] became a dental technician and joined the Radical Library, which had been organized near the beginning of the century. It had about two hundred members, mostly Jewish with a few Italians and Russians. They were largely garment workers and tailors, some of them from the London East End, as well as cigar-makers and a few construction workers (painters, electricians). There were also teachers, librarians, and students. It was a cultural as much as a political organization. It sponsored lectures (every Sunday, in English) and forums, had a Sunday School for the children, distributed literature, and published books and pamphlets, including Joseph Cohen's history of the Jewish anarchists in America. The majority were moderates, engaged in propaganda work, but we had a small minority of militant revolutionists, including Marcus Graham.
The leading figure was Joseph Cohen, a cigarmaker by trade, who served as the group's librarian. He and Harry Kelly and Leonard Abbot, who often came down from New York, formed a sort of troika and were dedicated to the Modern School movement. Will Durant of the New York school also came to speak. His Story of Philosophy is an outgrowth of lectures delivered over a two-year period in New York and Philadelphia. Other speakers included Rudolf Rocker, Charles Dana, Harry Overstreet, and Chaim Weinberg (called "der folksredner" [the people's tribune]), who held the audience's attention with his humor and treasure of anecdotes. George Brown, from England, was another able speaker. We had close ties, incidentally, with the Italian group in Philadelphia, and held joint meetings, picnics, and other affairs. In addition, Cohen and I organized an Anarchist Red Cross branch to assist political prisoners in Russia.

From Paul Avrich, Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America AK Press, 1995/2005). 224.

Emma Gilbert (named after Emma Goldman) was the daughter of Joseph J. Cohen (1878-1953), an editor of the Fraye Arbeter Shtime, founder of the Sunrise Colony in Michigan, and participant in the Modern Schools in Philadelphia, New York, and Stelton (Emma attended all three).

From Paul Avrich, interview with Emma Gilbert (September 23, 1974), in Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America AK Press, 1995/2005). 224-225.

I [Emma Gilbert] was born in Philadelphia on August 9, 1904, and was named after Emma Goldman. My brother's [E. V. Conason, q.v.] middle name is Voltaire, after Voltairine de Cleyre. My parents, Joseph and Sophie Cohen, immigrated from Russia in 1903. Both learned English from Voltairine de Cleyre, and though I was only a small child when they were taking their lessons from her, my memories are quite vivid. My own first language was Yiddish, and I can remember standing up in my crib and reciting a Yiddish poem, but my parents were determined to learn English, so my Yiddish dropped away very quickly. When they went to Voltairine's apartment for their lessons they would take me along, and I sat in her lap as she taught them.
[...] Father never cared about possessions, about things. Only books--and even that was not to possess them but to use them, to learn from them.

From Paul Avrich, interview with Emma Gilbert (September 23, 1974), in Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America AK Press, 1995/2005). 226.

Dad became manager of the Ferrer Center in New York, and Cora Bennett Stephenson was the teacher when I first came there.

From Paul Avrich, interview with Emma Gilbert (September 23, 1974), in Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America AK Press, 1995/2005). 226.

[Lexington Avenue bombing suspect Michael] Murphy talked to Dad and Sasha. I am convinced that neither my father nor Berkman had known what these boys were up to. But to protect Murphy, Dad brought him out to Leonard Abbot's picnic in Westfield, New Jersey. Before leaving New York he called Harry Melman [q.v.] and other comrades in the Radical Library in Philadelphia to meet him at Westfield. He delivered Murphy to them at the railroad station. Murphy was a very suggestible and simple boy, and they feared he might be used by the police. He was kept in Philadelphia for a while, then taken to England by way of Canada. He wrote to Father from England shortly before the Second World War asking, "Is it safe for me to come back?" Dad gave a double-take when he read that, and figured that if he had to ask such a question after all that time he had better stay there, so he answered no. The people at the picnic weren't told about Murphy, but they had probably heard about the explosion. It was all kept very quiet.

Candace Falk (2008)

From notes to Candace Falk (2008), Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume 2: Making Speech Free: 1902-1909, University of Illinois Press. 459n3.

3 The Radical Library was initially affiliated with the Ladies' Liberal League of Philadelphia, when the League joined the Radical Library around 1895. Guided by Voltairine de Cleyre and her friends, the Radical Library worked to "repair a deficit in the public libraries by furnishing radical works upon all subjects at convenient hours for working men and accessible to all at only a slight expense." In 1905, after the Ladies' Liberal League disbanded, Philadelphia anarchist Natasha Notkin, who had been the caretaker of the library, passed the books on to Joseph Cohen, a former student of de Cleyre's. Cohen started a new group, which settled at 424 Pine Street. The newly reconfigured Radical Library, led by Cohen, became an established center of Philadelphia anarchism. In 1906 the Radical Library and the Social Science Club sponsored a Paris Commune commemoration, at which Voltairine de Claire, George Brown, Frank Stephens, Chaim Weinberg as well as French and Italian anarchists spoke.